Friday, November 6, 2015

Stand by for a Damascene conversion : are Lib Dem commentators about to announce that they DO understand how STV by-elections work after all?

Now, I have to say this one is deliciously amusing.  You might remember that a few weeks ago, a number of Liberal Democrats (including Caron Lindsay, Prue Bray and our dear old friend Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson) almost seemed to be going out of their way to demonstrate that they have no comprehension at all of the voting system for local government elections that their own party was largely responsible for introducing under the second McConnell coalition.  All of them seemed utterly unable to grasp that the SNP could be "defending" a seat in the Aird and Loch Ness ward without having won the popular vote in that ward last time, even though precisely that kind of scenario is part and parcel of how the system works.  It's perfectly possible (and it's happened before) for a party to be technically "defending" a seat even if they finished in a distant third or fourth place last time.  In Aird and Loch Ness, the SNP finished second in 2012, and remained in second place in last month's by-election, but with a marked increase in their share of the vote.  Therefore, as many of us patiently pointed out, the headlines that screamed "shock Lib Dem gain from SNP" were totally misleading - the SNP had actually had a moderately good result, and it was in fact an independent candidate that the Liberal Democrats had replaced as the winner of the popular vote.  But all of this went completely over Smithson's head, who in a supreme act of un-self-awareness linked to my own post with the words "How one of Scotland's leading political sites reported the SNP loss of a by-election in the Highlands". That was supposed to be an ironic comment, but I suspect he didn't find it half as funny as I did.

So what has this got to do with today's events? Well, you see, the opposite scenario has just occurred. In the Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford by-election, two seats were up for grabs. The Conservatives climbed from second to first place in the popular vote and technically "gained" one of the seats from the Liberal Democrats, while the SNP slipped to second place but successfully "held" the other seat. The Liberal Democrats' vote actually went up but they "lost" the seat they were "defending".  If Smithson and other Lib Dem commentators are showing any consistency at all with their "all that matters is how seats change hands" philosophy, they'll have no choice but to describe that as a success for the SNP and a disaster for the Lib Dems. But will they? Or are they suddenly going to miraculously discover that they understand how STV by-elections work after all? Oooh, the suspense...

The good news, by the way, is that the SNP's share of the vote in the by-election was unchanged (in fact on the unrounded percentages it was up slightly), even though they were leapfrogged by the Tories. As in the Loch Ness contest, this seems to be a case of the unionist vote coalescing behind the most promising candidate.

* * *

Scot Goes Pop fundraiser : I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for all your amazing donations so far. As I write, the running total stands at £3473, which is 69% of the way towards the target of £5000. The fundraiser page can be found HERE.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Scot Goes Pop Hot Chocolate Fundraiser

Click here to go straight to the fundraising page.

Hi, I’m James Kelly. I write the pro-independence blog Scot Goes Pop, which over the years has carved out a niche for itself with its detailed coverage of opinion polls. During the independence referendum, it relentlessly challenged the agenda-driven misreporting of polls as showing that the Yes campaign were not even in the game. In the run-up to the general election, it picked up the extraordinary SNP surge a few weeks earlier than the mainstream media and most other polling websites, mainly because it didn’t shy away from the controversial approach of looking at the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls. According to Google Analytics, an astonishing 210,000 unique visitors have read the blog over the last twelve months alone. Even if only half of those people are in Scotland (and the true figure is likely to be higher than that), it means that over 2% of the country’s population has been reached. Not bad for a one-person operation!

Throughout much of 2014 and 2015, writing Scot Goes Pop has been the equivalent of either a full-time job or a very time-consuming part-time job. It simply wouldn’t have been possible to put in that level of commitment if it hadn’t been for your incredibly generous contributions to two fundraisers – the first in May 2014, and the second in September 2014. Between them, they raised over £9000. For the avoidance of doubt, the fundraisers weren’t intended to cover the running costs of the blog – there aren’t really any running costs at all, and there won’t be any in future unless it becomes necessary to switch to a different platform. A small percentage of the money was spent on drawing in new readers via adverts on social media, but the bulk of it simply helped cover my own living expenses. I do have other sources of income, but obviously time spent blogging is time that I can’t spend earning money elsewhere.

The period covered by the second fundraiser ended with the general election in May. Since then, I’ve held off from running a third, because I wanted to take time to consider what its exact purpose might be. I’ve seriously toyed with the idea of following the example of a few fellow political bloggers, and scaling back on the blogging to concentrate on writing a book (for self-publication). At other times, I’ve thought I’ll probably continue blogging as regularly as I’ve been doing recently, and perhaps even look at the possibility of using crowdfunding to commission the occasional opinion poll myself. In all honesty, my plans are still very unclear, although I do know that I’d like to continue writing regularly in some form. Unfortunately, financial pressures have very suddenly come to a head, and I now realise that I can’t wait for the mists to clear in my mind before I attempt to raise some more funds.

When I first explained this dilemma in May, a number of you very kindly said that you appreciate the large amount of work I’ve put into the blog, and would be willing to make a donation in recognition of that. I believe the internet jargon is “buying me a coffee”. The only snag is that I detest the taste of coffee. Luckily, however, I do seem to spend a fair percentage of my life in Edinburgh or Glasgow coffee shops drinking hot chocolate, ideally with cream and chocolate sprinkles on top. So perhaps the best way of looking at this fundraiser is as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (and you know what that means) to buy me a hot chocolate or two if you’ve enjoyed the blog, and don’t want to see me go thirsty (sniff) as I endeavour to keep writing in the months to come.

In case you don’t know much about me, I’ve been blogging at Scot Goes Pop for seven-and-a-half years now. I’ve also written articles for The National newspaper, and for numerous websites including the International Business Times, Bella Caledonia, Wings Over Scotland, Political Betting, National Collective, Fair Observer, Scottish Roundup and the Eurovision Times. Many of my IBTimes articles have been syndicated on Yahoo News. I was interviewed twice on BBC Breakfast during the week of the referendum, and I’ve taken part in several alternative media podcasts and videos. Oh, and as I never let anyone forget, I was a runner-up in Fish Publishing’s Micro-fiction competition in May 2008 (which come to think of it was the same month I started the blog – I must have been on fire that month).

I’m going to make the same commitment that I made during the previous two fundraisers – if for any reason I can’t put the money to good use to support my writing, I’ll pass whatever is left onto other pro-independence causes. Or conceivably I might use it to run an opinion poll if there happens to be enough to cover that, but either way you can rest assured that nothing will go to waste.

As always, please don’t feel under any pressure to make a donation. Scot Goes Pop isn’t a newspaper or a magazine – it’s a blog, and there’s absolutely no charge to read it. The option to donate is there if you want to, but it’s only an option. And, of course, if you have a spare minute or two you can always pass on the word to others – every tweet or Facebook share helps enormously!

Click here if you'd like to donate.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Your verdicts are emphatic : Tommy Sheridan should NOT be ostracised, and we should remain in the EU

As you'll probably have seen days ago, these were the final results of the two readers' polls I ran at the weekend...

Should the pro-independence movement ostracise Tommy Sheridan?

Yes : 135 votes (18.3%)
No : 604 votes (81.7%)

In the EU referendum, will you vote to 'Remain' or 'Leave'?

Remain : 651 votes (86.3%)
Leave : 103 votes (13.7%)

Apologies to anyone who was unable to vote because the polls were already closed.  If I'd known it was going to take me until the middle of week to post the results, I'd have left them open for much longer than 24 hours!

*  *  *

It's almost reassuring to discover that the No2AV campaign was not (quite) the most disreputable campaign in the entire history of democratic politics.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the "No Men in Women's Bathrooms" campaign, which has just emerged victorious in the city of Houston.  You're way ahead of me here - the proposition that voters were deciding on had little or nothing to do with allowing men in women's bathrooms (the word "bathroom" wasn't even mentioned), but was instead a very broad anti-discrimination law.  Apparently, the No campaign's deception was so successful that polling evidence showed a large percentage of voters truly believed that they were voting on a straight choice between allowing men in women's bathrooms, and not allowing men in women's bathrooms.  Even the official victory rally was plastered with the slogan "No Men in Women's Bathrooms".

If this sort of thing wasn't so tragic, it would be hysterically funny.  It kind of is anyway.

*  *  *

Just to give everyone fair warning, I'm resigning myself to the likelihood of having to run a third fundraiser soon.  I had hoped and expected that I could hold off for a while longer, which would have been a lot better, because it would have given me the opportunity of working out exactly what my plans are, what the purpose of the fundraiser is, exactly what timescale it will cover, etc, etc.  But a few random events that I hadn't budgeted for have suddenly caught up with me.   Daft though it may sound, one of them was getting stranded on Arran last month because of fog, which cost me a small fortune in accommodation (I had to book an expensive twin room because it seemed to be the only room left in the whole of Brodick), food and transport the next day.

So the objectives of the fundraiser may have to be slightly vaguer this time, although you can rest assured that I won't dream of running a fourth one until you've had your money's worth.  Even so, fans of "hypothecation" may not approve!

It seemed to me there was an organised "concern trolling" attempt to sabotage the second fundraiser last autumn.  It didn't succeed, but I still found it very upsetting, because the comments were essentially questioning my sincerity and commitment just days after the independence referendum.  For the sake of my own sanity (and probably everyone else's), I'll be deleting any suspicious comments this time as soon as I see them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The amendment to the Scotland Bill still doesn't guarantee the Scottish Parliament's permanence

I know I've mentioned this a few times before, so apologies for repeating myself.  But a couple of years ago I took part in a podcast with Andrew Tickell, and I was very surprised when he took issue with my point that it would be perfectly possible to entrench a devolved Scottish Parliament as permanent, and that it isn't strictly true to say that no Westminster government can bind its successors. The example I gave was that the independence of Australia was legislated for by Westminster, and that there's no way Westminster can now abolish Australian independence simply by repealing that law.  Andrew insisted that was flatly wrong - in theory, Westminster can repeal Australian independence because the principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that it can do whatever it likes, no matter how absurd.

Having thought about it since, I think that looks at the issue the wrong way round.  If Westminster tried to repeal the Australia Act 1986, and if anyone was foolish enough to take that seriously, the issue would be decided by the Australian courts, not the British ones.  Australian judges would undoubtedly take the view that the supremacy of the British parliament ceased to have effect in Australia from the moment a law was passed stating that : "No Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to the Commonwealth..."  Australia is now subject to Australian constitutional law only.

A similar principle might be said to apply to Scotland in reverse, because the authority of the Westminster parliament ultimately derives from an Act of the pre-union Scottish Parliament, namely the Union with England Act 1707.  I believe I'm correct in saying that Scottish judges have previously indicated that some parts of that Act are more entrenched than others, and that the Scottish courts wouldn't necessarily stand idly by if Westminster unilaterally ripped up some of its key provisions.

So there does appear to be legislative language which is strong enough to trump the 'absolute sovereignty of parliament' principle.  The million dollar question is whether the beefed-up 'permanence' clause in the Scotland Bill is sufficiently strong to have that effect.  This is how it now reads -


63A Permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government

(1) The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements.

(2) The purpose of this section is, with due regard to the other provisions of this Act, to signify the commitment of the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

(3) In view of that commitment it is declared that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are not to be abolished except on the basis of a decision of the people of Scotland voting in a referendum.

To be fair, I think this does take us a little further forward, because it's now the case that Westminster would definitely have to repeal that Clause if it ever wanted to abolish the Scottish Parliament without a referendum. (The previous wording was the suspiciously tortured "it is recognised that the Scottish Parliament is a permanent part...", which may not even have had any legal effect at all. It was more like commentary than law - "recognised" by who exactly?) So at least it will now be the law of the land that the Scottish Parliament cannot be abolished except by popular vote. The snag is that Westminster will still be free to change that law whenever it likes, and probably won't have to break much of a sweat to do it. I suppose the language is now strong enough that if any attempt at repeal is made, a legal challenge might be launched on the basis that Westminster is attempting to use legislative powers that it has already terminated with the words "are not to be abolished". But that would be a very optimistic challenge, with presumably only an outside chance of success.

The wording of the clause still looks very peculiar to me, and it's hard not to conclude that the Tories' real objective is to look as if they're making the Scottish Parliament permanent, without giving that principle any meaningful effect in law. There are a lot of seemingly redundant words in there ("signify the commitment of", "in view of that commitment", "it is declared that"), and I would be interested to hear from legal experts what message is likely to be conveyed to the courts by those words.  If the government are acting in good faith, it's very hard to understand why they've rejected the Australian-style wording of "the power of the United Kingdom parliament to abolish the Scottish Parliament without consent is terminated".

There's a reason why this is important.  Just about the only part of The Vow that wasn't couched in incredibly vague language was the promise of permanence.  So if the Scottish Parliament's permanence isn't being guaranteed, The Vow isn't being delivered in full.  Simple as that.

Who needs proportional representation when you've got Michael White's "crook representation"?

At the general election, the Conservatives won an absolute majority of seats in parliament, despite winning just 37% of the vote.  In Scotland, meanwhile, the SNP took 95% of the seats, despite winning "only" 50% of the vote.

How do you solve this problem?  Do you -

a) Introduce proportional representation?

b) Leave things as they are, but demand that an MP from a minority party who has committed serious wrongdoing should be allowed to stay in office, to avoid making the problem marginally worse?  Oh, and describe the people using the law of the land to hold that MP to account as a "lynch mob" who are trying to destroy political pluralism?

If you're Michael White of the Guardian, the answer is b) all day long.

If Scottish Labour is to be "autonomous", the memo will eventually have to reach Maria Eagle

Would it be terribly insensitive of me to point out that Labour have got to get their story straight on whether the Scottish Labour party is actually autonomous or not, and just how far any autonomy extends?  The Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle said this yesterday -

"I welcome the input of Scottish Labour and its conference into our internal debate, they’re one of many important voices that there are across the Labour movement about this issue. But let’s be very clear about what this does and does not mean. This does not change our policy. Defence isn’t a devolved matter, so Labour party policy has to be set at a national party level, at a UK level."

That flatly contradicts what we've been hearing recently, not only from Kezia Dugdale, but also from Eagle's own Shadow Cabinet colleague Ian Murray. According to them, the vote on Trident at the weekend was not a relatively minor "input" into a UK-wide "internal debate", but the binding decision of an autonomous party which is entirely free to develop policy on both devolved and non-devolved matters alike. Dugdale has even strongly implied that it will not be possible to whip Scottish Labour parliamentarians to vote in favour of Trident until some sort of formal negotiation has occurred between the UK and Scottish parties to thrash out an agreed platform for fighting an election, presumably along the lines of policy negotiations between the CDU and CSU in Germany.

Eagle's gaffe reminds me very much of Chuka Umunna's extraordinarily blunt slapdown of Jim Murphy during the general election campaign. London Labour figures always seem to let their guard slip when they're not talking primarily about Scotland, but instead about a subject of UK-wide interest that happens to have a Scottish dimension. Their true contempt for their Scottish branch office suddenly comes shining through : "This has got nothing to do with haggis or tartan. We deal with the grown-up stuff."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Straight talking, honest politics

It's easy to be cynical about pretty much anything the Scottish Labour party do, but let's just congratulate them for making the right call on Trident.  In days gone by, this sort of vote would have been meaningless, but Kezia has talked herself into a position where she has no choice but to recognise the decision as binding on her "autonomous" accounting unit/branch office.

The GMB and Unite have both been making prize buffoons of themselves on this topic for weeks, and true to form, the GMB's Gary Smith today accused Scottish Labour of "Alice in Wonderland politics" for simply moving to bring the UK into line with the 95% of nations around the world that don't possess nuclear weapons.  What will happen to the jobs at Faslane, he demanded, continuing the theme of "let's destroy the world as a job creation scheme".

He's got a point, you know.  It seems to me that Scottish Labour have now got very little choice but to embrace independence, because surely the only chance of finding jobs for all the Faslane staff is to retrain them as border guards to man Checkpoint Gretna and Checkpoint Berwick, and dog handlers to patrol the heavily fortified frontier in between. 

"Why build another wall?  Oh why build another wa-all?"  Jobs, frankly.